Money … to spend, to save, to make, to donate, to put in its place

Money — the M in HOME — is a commodity that affects everyone’s lives. You may have a lot, you may have a little, you may inherit some, you may work hard for it, you may invest it, you may waste it. It may make you comfortable, it may make you complacent, it may make you reckless. You may always be looking to make more, you may be happy with what you’ve got, you may spend more than you have. You might use it to travel and study, you might only have enough to rent a room and look out the window. You might use money to eat well, you might only have enough to eat occasionally. You can buy works of art, you can buy cigarettes and crystal meth. You might obsess about money, you may not give it much thought, but do know that money will play a role in your life.

That said, a lot of people at this moment are worrying and/or wondering about money because their place of business is closed, they cannot pay their bills, they have no idea what’s ahead. And while I do want to speak at some point about how to view and assess your financial situation and your handling of it, right now I will not talk about money per se but about five tips to help you get and maintain a rhythm in daily life. These suggestions are helpful at any time but can really make a difference when times are hard.

  1. Make your bed. Seriously, whether you are sleeping in a king-sized poster bed or on a park bench, make your bed once you get up (even if that only means to move your pillow to your cart). Doing so signifies that your day has begun and you have decided so. It’s very easy to get sloppy and mopey and leave the bed or the couch or the sleeping bag undone, but taking the three minutes or so to make or wrap it all up begins your day on an organized note in which you are in control.
  2. Reevaluate your schedule and adjust accordingly. I know there is a school of thought that everyone should wake up early, be productive in the morning, eat three squares a day, and turn into the sack by 10:00 p.m. If that schedule fits your day and you find it fits you, go for it. If it makes you irritable or leaves you exhausted, change it. People have slept and waked and worked at all hours since the beginning of time (see Luke 2:8-11). You the night owl can be as productive at 1:30 a.m. as your day lark neighbor is at 1:30 p.m. and both of you can be successful. You might be one of those people who feel best eating only two meals a day or you may rather work on weekends and have Wednesdays free or perhaps you dig seeing the sunrise on your morning jog. Find out what is your timing and work with it.
  3. Do not overindulge. If you are going through a tough time, you are most likely anxious, worried, angry, and worn-out, yet still need to be clearheaded enough to look for work, budget, and make other decisions. It is going to be a lot easier to do so if you are not nursing a hangover, struggling to zip up your pants, or cursing your maxed-out credit cards. While it may seem the perfect time to treat yourself — with a hot fudge sundae, a double gin and tonic, those cool new boots — it is a time to develop frugal methods. No, it may not be your first choice, but moderation is the smart choice during hard times and it will make being to indulge all that much sweeter.
  4. Give yourself a challenge. When was the last time you had a deadline or goal to meet that was not from school, work, or the government? When was the last time you tested yourself? Can you go one month without sweets? Meat? A glass of wine? Can you save $500 by the end of the year? Can you learn enough Spanish to order in a Mexican restaurant at Christmas time? Can you do 100 push-ups per day for one month? Can you tell a joke a day everyday from here until Halloween? A challenge is a great way to evaluate and improve yourself at the same time.
  5. Develop a sense of adventure for ordinary days. We often fall into routines that become ruts simply because we don’t see the magic in the mundane. Okay, your days are made up of a commute, your job, grocery shopping, dealing with friends or family (maybe kids), washing dishes, paying bills. Pretend you are a spy. Test yourself on your way to work: What is coming up at the next corner? What businesses are two blocks up? How many coffee shops do you pass? Churches? It is amazing how little we notice and how much we miss on a daily commute. At the market, what new veggie or herb can you throw in a salad? Take a peek at those jars with foreign writing on them. What is in the discount bin? Can you switch around your daily schedule at work? Take a break outside instead of in the lounge? Read a poem (or write one) while you eat lunch? What is the favorite color/movie/meal of your friend or sibling or son? Find out what they would do if they could do whatever they wanted. Pay attention when washing dishes. Feel the hot water, smell the soap, and remind yourself that you are preparing to eat good meals in the future. And while bill paying is a drag, is there any way to reduce your bills? Have you ever investigated the possibility? If they are what they are, can you find some great music — 1960s Egyptian jazz, country swing, Christian metal — to add some spice to this necessary chore?

Self Improvement

Simple Advice For Improvements Major or Minor

Start where you are.

Use what you have.

Do what you can.

This sage bit of counsel comes from the late great Arthur Ashe, an athlete and businessman who was the first African American tennis player to be selected to the United States Davis Cup team and the only black man (so far) to win the singles title at Wimbledon. This advice seems so simple that one’s first response is to either a) nod your head and say, “Why, yes, of course …” or b) roll your eyes and say, “Well, duh, of course …” Either way, these guidelines are great when you are trying to improve any area of your life – finances, athletic pursuits, business, friendships – but while they may seem straightforward, they deserve analysis and forethought.

Start where you are. Are you certain you know where it is you are exactly? You may know your geographic whereabouts, your biological age, and your strengths and skills, but do you know where you are in the scheme of things? Do a realistic assessment. How is your health (mental, financial, physical), what are your days like, what are your responsibilities and restrictions? Is it feasible to start up a business when you’re about to be evicted? Can you handle a cross-country move while you undergo cancer treatment? How much time can you devote to a small business, a creative project, a volunteer endeavor right now? Never mind how you felt ten years ago or how your life might be in a few years from now or what your days might be like if you lived somewhere else – where are you in your life right now? Know your starting point.

Use what you have. Never mind what you might have had in the past or what you could get in the future – what do you have right now? Assess your resources – skills, funds, equipment, connections – and don’t forget to look in the corners. A lot of us have opportunities, advantages, outsiders willing to help, and various sources of assistance that we don’t utilize because we don’t see them. Do be careful, however, of overestimating your resources and be certain to look at what you are going to need for the entire process.

I set up a website which was going to showcase all the great black and white photos I took with disposable cameras. I had bought a couple of one-use black and white cameras, knew how to run a WordPress blog, and had secured the domain. I had ideas where to take photos and what to shoot. I was just about to start this project when the first roll of film came back from the developer. I then found out that processing black and white film is expensive (at least for my budget). I simply could not afford to have my photos developed on a regular basis. The site then sat empty for over a year before I developed a new idea for it. Had I thoroughly assessed what I had and what I needed, I would have realized that I was not in the position to carry out my plans.

Be careful. A great idea or promising future is grand but getting there requires you to work in the present – and you can only work with you’ve got.

Do what you can. Obviously, you cannot do what you cannot do. And while it is possible that you may be able to do quite a lot, it is probable that you won’t be able to do as much as you want to do, particularly at first. That said, even if you can only accomplish a bit, do not squander this capability/opportunity. People will often do nothing when they realize they can only do a little. “I won’t be able to exercise for a full hour today so I won’t exercise at all.” “What good is saving ten bucks a month?” “I wanted to go back to school but I could only take a night course once a week.” We often take the attitude of “Go big or go home” without realizing how much can be accomplished through the accumulation of small steps. Success is rarely overnight, it is the accumulation of small triumphs and improvements.

What’s more, doing something for improvement – even if it is a small step – brings about a mental change. You realize that you have control over your life and that there is always something you can do to improve your lot. Studies amongst the homeless have shown that people who bathe on a regular basis are more apt to find work, get housing, and get off the street quicker than those who do not keep themselves clean. A small step, but a step forward nonetheless.

It is unfortunate but true: It is not that we can only do a little bit, but that we do nothing with that little bit we can do.

Offbeat Advice

A Short Answer and A Sympathetic Ear

I recently formulated some New Year’s resolutions. (Yes, this calendar year of 2019 has been challenging and a bit of a bust regarding changes I planned on making, so I am starting a new year on August 1st.) One resolution I made was to post to this blog regularly — a short post on Monday, a longer one to be posted on Thursday or Friday. In keeping with that resolution, here is my short begin-the-week post.

Life comes with problems. Some problems you may bring upon yourself, some may come upon you out of nowhere, some can be solved, some stick around the rest of your life. It is just the way it is. (See John 16:33.)

Sometimes, talking about your problems can help you deal with them better. Since you and your pals and your neighbor and the bartender all have problems too, they can relate to whatever is bugging you or at least understand why it is bugging you. So when someone asks, “Hey, how’s it going?” you talk about your lousy job or your troubled child or your bad knee or whatever ails you. It feels good to get this weight off your chest. You feel less angry, less overwhelmed, and hey! the listener might even have a helpful piece of advice. And folks just want to help one another, right?

A word of caution: Not everyone wants to hear all your problems. Or at least not every time they see you. And while it is a given that in this world you will have trials and tribulation, your troubles don’t need to be the focus of all your conversations.

If you want to live your life with some modicum of class, find a short answer to “Is everything alright?” You don’t need to say “Oh, couldn’t be better!” but you don’t need to give a detailed account of your bankruptcy either. Then find a sympathetic ear (therapist, counselor, and also prayer) to listen to your woes or find another way (journal, online board, etc. ) to let it all hang out.

Spilling your guts should not be an integral part of your daily interactions.


Will Satisfaction Suffice?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the first words I learned in graduate school: satisficing. It’s a strategy in which a decision maker chooses an option that might not be the best choice but does satisfy the basic need for the decision. (The word satisficing is a combination of satisfying and sufficing.) For example, instead of finding the absolute lowest airfare possible, you search until you find an airfare that fits your budget and then you buy your ticket. Your decision satisfies your needs (airline tickets) and meets your standards (spend less that a certain amount) and so you take action.

When I first heard of satisficing, I thought it was just a fancy way to say lower your standards and settle for less. Yet Nobel Peace Prize winner Herbert Simon (who coined the phrase) felt differently. He argued, “Decision makers can satisfice either by finding optimum solutions for a simplified world or by finding satisfactory solutions for a more realistic world.” Simply put, satisficing is an efficient way of making decisions in the real world where time, money, and info are in limited supply. Satisficing helps managers, executives, soldiers, and regular citizens make decisions and implement a course of action.

I remember a point in my life when I was thinking about making a major change. I had various options, each one requiring time and commitment, and (of course) I felt I had to make the absolute best choice. (Hey, this is my life, you know!) I spent hours researching, organizing, reflecting, and agonizing over my choices and their possible impact. Rather than being excited about stepping onto a new path, I was paralyzed by anxiety and insecurity. I kept asking myself, “How do I know there isn’t something better out there?” In the end, I stayed where I was and never made any change at all.

And therein lies the dilemma of decision-making. If you want to make the best choice, you need to know what is the best choice. This can lead to a lot of second-guessing and, possibly, not making any decision at all. If you do make a decision, you may find that something better was indeed out there, causing you to lose interest in the choice you made. However, if you make a decision to simply satisfy a need (keeping in mind your standards), once you make such decision you can move on. And in the end, isn’t that the point of making a choice, to get on with our lives?